Books by Cat Bowman Smith

Released: Oct. 6, 2008

Left on an old-fashioned farm with cheerfully odd, elderly relatives, 12-year-old Parker gradually discovers that it is possible to live without electronic toys and even finds a way to help his great-aunt and -uncle maintain their special place. Only slightly exaggerated for humorous effect, Parker is a familiar character: an underachieving, asthmatic boy whose chief entertainment is video games. To avoid being sent to SAT camp while his parents vacation, he chooses the farm, but quickly discovers its drawbacks: no Internet, no television, no cell-phone service. Instead there are chores to do and, a long walk away, a stream with a wily trout to catch. Development threatens this idyllic world, but Uncle Philbert and Aunt Mattie ignore what they can't change. The contrast between sullen, self-centered Parker and his engaging, feckless relatives sets up the humor, but it is the imaginative wordplay that keeps it rolling. A glossary at the end defines unfamiliar words, some invented and others obsolete. Smith's line drawings enliven chapter headings and break up longer chapters. A read-aloud treat. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 15, 2007

Twelve-year-old Holly returns for her third troublesome turn, this time with nearly two-year-old twin brothers. A week before Dylan and Jeremy's birthday, Holly's mother and stepfather are busy to the point of testiness. Holly volunteers to plan the boys' party. She calls her friends from Trouble with Babies (2002), Xavier and Annie. The trio decides on a science-themed party, which isn't a hit with toddlers . . . at least not the planned aspects. The local barista—who sports a Mohawk, bright clothes and bad jokes—looks like a clown. The cake is nibbled by cats, but Twinkies under whipped topping taste great. The party's deemed a success, and Holly realizes that twins may be trouble, but they're wonderful once you're used to them. The lack of multicultural/alternative family details makes this entry in the series more generic, but its simplicity and realism and Holly's timorously positive attitude are still charming. Smith's pen-and-ink illustrations might not always sync up with the text, but they do bring Holly's world to life. A solid early-chapter purchase for large collections. (Fiction. 7-11)Read full book review >
AUCTION! by Tres Seymour
Released: May 1, 2005

Aunt Lou loves an auction "better than anything," so when auction day comes, the entire family ventures forth to see what treasures might lurk among the kerosene lamps, toasters, stuffed groundhogs and plastic flowers. Aunt Lou's niece, the narrator, spots a gem right away—a straw hat just like her daddy's: "I tried it on, and it fit me / better than my own hair." She just hopes her overzealous aunt and her aunt's longtime bidding rival Miss Logsdon don't get their hands on it first. This is a fun, folksy introduction to the psychology, rules and singsong rhythms of an auction, complete with down-home feel (the author's from Kentucky) and happy ending, as the gleeful hat-wearing girl at the end will testify. Auctioneer Bubba Philpott's rapid-fire chant ("Do I hear three dollah three dollah / three dollah three dollah / who'll go three?") appears in swooping bold sans-serif type for added effect, and Smith's comical watercolor-and-ink illustrations are as lively and friendly as the story. "Whee-oo!" as Aunt Lou would say. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2005

Red McCarthy finds a giant polliwog in the waters of the Erie Canal and tries to bring it home. However, the polliwog escapes into the pond and takes up residence. When it grows, it becomes a giant frog that drives the townspeople crazy with its earthquake-like jumps, its garden-drowning splashes and its sleep-disturbing garrumphs. But as with most tales of this sort, before the town can get rid of it, Joshua becomes a hero. He moves barges down the canal, from Rome to Syracuse, when the lack of water strands their movement. After that, Joshua helps by dragging lumber, pulling stumps and moving rocks and a boulder the size of a barn. He celebrates with the town's band and pulls the dangerous curves on Snake Hill Road into a straight line. Readers may have difficulty suspending their belief system long enough to enjoy this awkwardly shaped tale, but Smith's realistically executed watercolors depicting the giant frog and his helpful nature may just carry it off. (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE ROSIE STORIES by Cynthia Voigt
Released: Nov. 15, 2003

Rosie is a little dog with a giant appetite. Whether she's "cleaning up" a cereal spill or proudly knocking over the trash can and scrounging through the contents, she has one thing on her mind: food. But, her family loves her, even when she's a "bad dog." Duff and Jessie, the children in Rosie's family, are crazy about their little dog, and Rosie returns the love. Voigt's dog's-eye view gives words to Rosie's incessant barking—"Eat!" "Nag!" "Breakfast!"—and the exclamation points that punctuate each bark let the reader know who's in charge. Short, snappy sentences add to the sense of yippy little dog. Smith's lively color illustrations show Rosie, the big-headed (and big-hearted) Jack Russell terrier, with all the emotions and expressions befitting a dog of her energy and intelligence. The repeated words, familiar situations, and frequent illustrations will lead Rosie to many new readers, while entertaining experienced readers, too. For dog lovers of all ages. Good dog, Rosie! (Fiction. 6-9)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 7, 2003

DeFelice reshapes a folktale with a Southwestern flavor. After an unseen thief nicks her beans three nights running, Granny marches off to tell the Sheriff. On the way, she encounters a water snake, a pecan, a cow patty, a prickly pear, and an alligator—all of whom address her politely and suggest that she take them home with her. Listeners will quickly pick up her repeat, "In a pig's eye!," and laugh when all do accompany her home (the Sheriff having gone fishing) to arrange themselves in strategic positions for the thief's next visit. Smith uses a muddy palette, but captures the story's humor in Granny's theatrically exaggerated gestures and the smiling faces of her low-slung new allies. As in all the variations on "Bremen Town Musicians," the elaborately drawn-out set-up leads to a quick, rousing climax in which the malefactor (here, a raccoon) gets a lesson he won't soon forget. A fresh take on a reliable crowd-pleaser. (Picture book/folk tale. 7-9)Read full book review >
HAIRDO! by Ruth Freeman Swain
Released: Sept. 15, 2002

Moving on from Bedtime (1999), Swain and Smith turn to hair as a cultural statement. From people who shaved their heads and those who chose to be hairy, to people who grew beards or wore elaborate hairstyles, preferences often changed throughout history. The Ancient Egyptians were not a hairy bunch, whereas the Greeks were, often wearing long beards into battle. That is, until they realized that a beard could be grabbed by the enemy and used against them. Razors soon caught on. The thinning hair of King Louis XIV led to a run on the wigmaker's shops, while 18th-century European women had towering mountains of hair that were coated with lard and flour and lasted for weeks or months. Native American and African hairdos reflected the styles of their tribes; while the Chinese queue was originally ordered by the invading Manchus, but caught on to become a popular style. Hair adornments are also addressed, including the Egyptian method of keeping cool by placing a cone of perfumed (and melting) beeswax on the top of the head. Swain's mixture of humor and history makes this an effective look, not just at hairstyles, but also at social change. While more heavily Western, she has done a nice job of representing many non-Western cultures. Whatever the style, the message is clear: hair grows quickly, easily changes styles, and can demonstrate to people anything from religious or political views and occupation, to social or marital status. Smith's watercolor-and-ink illustrations fit hairstyle and era together seamlessly. Each page features not only the hair of the time, but also the clothing, furniture, and some aspects of everyday lives. A cut above. (hair facts, bibliography) (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-10)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 2002

Complete with jolly stepfather, new neighbors, gay fathers, and a new baby, Freeman takes up where The Trouble with Cats (2000) left off. Holly, her mother, and new stepfather have moved. Holly has the same problems as she did before: staying brave in the face of new challenges and keeping the cats in the house. She also needs to meet her new neighbors. What a diverse group they are. Many—perhaps too many—racial, ethnic, and lifestyle groups are represented in Holly's San Francisco neighborhood: hyphenated Aileen Cohen-Liu, Xavier with his two dads, and Annie with her Jewish/Polish mother and Chinese father. Xavier's fathers are introduced quickly but have little to do with the story: " ‘I have two dads. And no mom. Alan and Jim are partners.' ‘Oh, now I get it,' I said. ‘You mean they're gay.'" As Holly works out the relationship between Annie and her yucky baby sister, the savvy reader will realize that mom and stepdad are about to spring their own yucky news. While there is some humor and the characters are likable enough, awkward first-person dialogue, unlikely situations, and a slow plot detract from total success. Even Xavier, the quirky boy next door, with his inexplicable crush on Annie and his "de-yucka-ma-box" invention, seems just another odd diversion. Smith's scratchy black-and-white sketches mirror the world painted by Freeman, but add little to it. Though the generous font and thoughtful layout is the perfect form for new readers, the trouble here is there's just not much story. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
NO MORE NASTY by Amy MacDonald
Released: Aug. 9, 2001

Chagrined and astounded that unconventional Aunt Mattie is his fifth-grade substitute teacher for the remainder of the year, Simon, from No More Nice (1996), steadily develops as a character. His classmates are determined to maintain their power and reputation for pushing teachers to the limit, but Aunt Mattie profoundly changes their perspective and goals. Though the continuation from the first is smoothly done, this stands alone well. MacDonald uses a timely theme for children who typically feel unbalanced, at this age, by the realization that they are embarrassed in public by things that they are comfortable with at home. Though the message is slightly strong, it is not belabored: regardless of the apparent humiliation, children need to handle their fear of being ridiculed and confidently develop their beliefs. The plot captures immediate interest, which holds up throughout. Line drawings echo the light humor and reflect the text rather than providing additional insight. The humor is enhanced by the silly stereotyped characterizations of the one-dimensional, power-hungry vice principal and the unprincipled rival teacher. Their inane cruelty blinds them to Aunt Mattie's and the children's potential. Their unnecessary wickedness pushes the plot to its conclusion. Slight glimpses into the depth of various characters are seen through Simon, whose major focus is upon himself and his classmates. Leaving room for a welcome third story, this is a fast read for children who want something funny and light. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
JUST ONE MORE STORY by Jennifer Brutschy
Released: June 1, 2001

While they may not be the most conventional family, "The Swamp Snakes" do have their traditions. Every night, no matter what, Austin's father tells him a story before bed; by day, the family performs in front of big crowds in small towns across the country ("Dad played fiddle, Mom sang country-western, and Austin banged the tambourine"). But when they stay in Uncle Roy's two-story house in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a misunderstanding rewrites the bedtime ritual in Brutschy's (Celeste and Crabapple Sam, o.p., etc.) clever effort. In an energetic watercolor vignette, Smith (No More Nasty, 2001, etc.) portrays Austin jumping on the bed demanding two bedtime stories. " ‘Hey, you know the rules,' [says] Dad. ‘Just one story at bedtime.' " " ‘But . . . this is a two-story house,' " says Austin. On the next page, the full-bleed illustration shows Austin peering down a darkened staircase while his father explains what a two-story house really means. But he indulges Austin anyway; after all, it's not often that they spend a night away from their tiny trailer. It will be back to normal the next night. But when the family wins a fiddling contest, they decide to splurge by staying in an 11-story hotel. Young readers will easily predict the outcome: the final spread shows Austin asleep in bed with 11 story bubbles floating above his head. Brutschy makes this unusual family seem familiar; and in a welcome change of pace, Smith portrays the family with brown skin and dark hair. While it's open to interpretation, the family appears to be Hispanic. All in all, it's a good yarn and a nice addition to multicultural collections. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
BOOM TOWN by Sonia Levitin
Released: March 1, 1998

The companion to the credibility-straining Nine for California (1996), this is a deeply satisfying story starring a resourceful heroine whose real-life counterpart is mentioned in a tiny historical footnote. Amanda and her family settle in a cabin while her father trudges off each week to prospect for gold. Even with a tumble of siblings, though, Amanda is bored until she figures out a way to do what she loves best: bake a pie. When Pa comes home and says he made 25 cents a slice from her gooseberry pie, Amanda begins to bake in earnest. But that's not all she does. She convinces a peddler to set up a trading post, encourages a prospector to open a laundry, and a cowboy to set up a livery stable. The town grows, enough for Pa to go into business with his daughter and for Amanda to think about schooling as well as pie. Smith's detailed watercolors are full of charm: Amanda's red ribbons match her gingham dress, a baby sister sleeps on a ferocious- looking bearskin rug in the cabin, and expressive, cartoony characters festoon the western landscape. It's fun to watch the town grow, spread by spread, and a map and a recipe for gooseberry pie grace the endpapers. Levitin and Smith provide a grand look at the hows and whys behind a town's growth; of course it didn't happen exactly this way—but it might have. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
UNDERGROUND TRAIN by Mary Quattlebaum
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Quattlebaum (The Magic Squad and the Dog of Great Potential, 1997, etc.) makes the subway a fairly exciting, thought-provoking place in a story about a girl and her mother traveling via the train to Nana's neighborhood: ``Down, down, down to the underground train, which rushes past like fast water.'' Once aboard, the girl scopes out the other passengers and watches ``the tunnel blurring by like a long, black night.'' The energy of the train is reflected in the bustle above-ground, where Smith shows swarms of tourists visiting the sights while locals go about their business—the elders rush around, youngsters jump rope and barrel down sidewalks on in-line skates. Quattlebaum and Smith convey both the strange magic of the subway—drop into the ground in one place, pop up in another—and the sense of urgency that informs the entire underground experience. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1997

Page chronicles the real events of her family's fishing life from the perspective of her oldest son, Taiga, making him the voice of the first-person narration. Taiga and his brother, Ryland, spend a summer assisting their parents on fishing boats in Alaska, where experience becomes their best teacher. Taiga, by neccessity, must help out, catching and cleaning fish, but the entire day is filled with unique and valuable interactions with the natural world. Taiga's father tells of the time he accidentally hooked a porpoise and was unable to free the thrashing creature; the family dog began to ``sing,'' an act that somehow calmed the porpoise. Taiga is sleeping when the fishing boat gets grounded on a rock, but wakes up in time for an encounter with orcas—killer whales—that surround them. He is scared, but the whales eventually pass by, and the family is unscathed. In this setting, nature is neither cute nor predictable—an attitude that recognizes that humans don't control or even completely fathom the workings of the natural world. Bowman's watercolor scenes exhibit an attention to detail and make these stories ring true, capturing the many moods of a summer spent mostly shipboard. Taiga's adventures combine natural history and good storytelling, and will captivate young listeners if read aloud. (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-9) Read full book review >
NO MORE NICE by Amy MacDonald
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

When Simon's proper and stuffy relatives come to stay for spring vacation, his mother packs him off to the country to stay with Aunt Matilda and Uncle Philbert. Simon's not sure he wants to go. When people talk about Aunt Matilda, they raise their eyebrows and say, ``Isn't she sort of . . . you know?'' Simon has to fill in the blanks himself, and wonders if his great-aunt is a coldhearted child-hater. Actually, she's nothing worse than the owner of a trio of llamas, a 1946 New York taxi cab, and two horses saved from a glue factory. Both she and her husband, ``the rudest man in the world,'' are bent on tearing down the rules of convention and propriety. They serve Simon pizza for breakfast and pie for supper, and start right in on his ``un-lessons,'' teaching him how to burp, spit, and play tunes with his armpit. Reminiscent of Betty MacDonald's stories of Mrs. Piggle- Wiggle, this is rollicking good fun, with much of the drollery captured in Smith's black-and-white illustrations. MacDonald (Cousin Ruth's Tooth, p. 230, etc.) limns a satisfying conversion of Simon from goody-goody to a boy who won't take any guff. Sharp characterizations and crack dialogue will have readers laughing out loud. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

Levitin (Evil Encounter, p. 533, etc.) finds an outlandish premise for her story of one family's stagecoach trip to California in the late 1800s, a story that also happily found Smith's winsome illustrations. Incidents in the book are based on letters and diaries of travelers (and in the fictional frame, a lot of information about stagecoaches is amicably bestowed upon readers), but there was probably never a trip like this one. When Pa sends a letter saying, ``Come to California, my dears. I am lonely without you,'' Mama and her five children pack, with Mama's sack of needfuls growing fatter by the minute. Rounding out the group for the 21-day trip are a banker, a teacher, and Cowboy Charlie. Baby Betsy throws up on the banker, then gets the hiccups. Mama quiets them all with sugar lumps from her sack. For lunch it's the stage driver's beans and Mama's prunes. Is everybody having fun yet? When this credibility-straining journey's over, readers may ask what Pa's doing for a living now since he was a bust as a miner, or why Mama puts up so gleefully with his sexist comments when they meet. Go West? Maybe not by stagecoach. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1996

Sally Perry's farm is a modest spread, as readers learn only toward the end of the tale, a back forty between brownstones. Sally herself is an amiable old soul, possessed of an indomitable spirit that attracts kids like flowers do butterflies. They swarm about her garden, buffing the tractor, sampling the harvest, invading her garden shed, building immensely satisfying playthings. One child is unsure of her usefulness. Sally leads the girl past her insecurities; she believes in fun first, and if some effort fails: ``Simple—next time we'll try something again.'' Komaiko (Fritzi Fox Flew In From Florida, 1995, etc.) gives her text a strong beat, ablaze with clever rhyming sequences. All the while, Sally's can-do attitude feels more like a jolly outlook than a message to readers. Smith's vivacious gouache illustrations have the texture of cake frosting, with bold outlines and gestures of a Toulouse-Lautrec cranked into color overdrive or of a Marcia Sewall gone unruly. Good, solid exuberance. (Picture book. 3-8) Read full book review >
PARTNERS by Karen Waggoner
Released: June 1, 1995

Conflicting motives almost wreck a third grader's firm friendship with his brother in this easy-reading, easygoing family story. A month after their sister's hyperaggressive cat Caliban disappears, Jamie and Gordon feel safe in buying the mice they've wanted for so longbut Jamie, who loves Scrub and Digger as pets, is horrified to learn that Gordon plans to sell their offspring for snake food. To make matters worse, shortly after the miracle of birth brings Ralph, Whiskers, Nosy, Stuartetc., etc.into the world, Caliban returns, much worse for wear. Are the mice doubly doomed? No. Caliban seems to be a changed cat, and Jamie cleverly persuades penny-pinching Gordon to change his mind by adding up the cost of keeping an explosively expanding ``inventory.'' Nonstereotypical characters and plausible problem-solving mark this light tale; Smith's b&w line drawings, as usual, capture each significant moment with deftly depicted facial expressions and body language. (Fiction. 8-10) Read full book review >
THE STORY OF ZACCHAEUS by Marty Rhodes Figley
Released: April 1, 1995

Figley comically dramatizes the story of the rich, despised sinner who changes his ways after Jesus chooses to stay at his house. She sticks to the old story, found in Luke 19:1-10, but her tone is anything but biblical. For instance, where the Bible states that ``he was little of stature,'' Figley writes, ``A tall man Zacchaeus was not. In fact, he was very short. He had to have his clothes cut down to his small size. He had to stand on a stool to reach things on the top shelf. And sometimes Zacchaeus got lost in a crowd.'' Smith captures the action in thick applications of gouache that make the scenes as blocky as woodcuts; her brightly garbed cartoon characters have funny expressions on their faces and further leaven the tale. The story has a moral, but in this version the message takes a backseat to the slapstick delivery. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
SCAREDY DOG by Stephen Lemberg
Released: Aug. 1, 1994

Rufus the puppy lives with an unnamed child on a small green island that sits in the middle of a bright blue bay. Poor Rufus is afraid of everything. Butterflies, bunnies, crickets—all send him scuttling away, tail between his legs. The child who owns him teases Rufus for being such a ``scaredy dog.'' One day, while Rufus and the child are throwing a ball on the beach, they see a mother swan and her four cygnets. Rufus, of course, is frightened and starts whimpering as he prepares to run away. The child, however, is not afraid of swans and reaches down toward one of the cygnets. The mother swan starts hissing and rushes out of the water toward the child, who is by now very frightened. But Rufus, intent upon protecting his friend, barks and growls enough to scare the nipping, angry swan away, saving the day. A lighthearted story about the meaning of true bravery, enhanced by fanciful, sunny watercolors. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
THE LATCHKEY DOG by Mary Jane Auch
Released: Jan. 3, 1994

The title doesn't really fit this tale of a boy and his dog, but it's a cute, marketable moniker for much ado about nothing. Amber is Sam's best friend, but with Sam's divorced mother newly employed outside the home, the dog is alone all day, disturbing the peace. Sam's mother wants to give Amber away; Sam is full of alternative ideas. Most of these fail, but ultimately the boy enlists the aid of a neighbor whose home office will be Amber's daytime hang-out; after school, Sam and Amber ``volunteer'' at his sister Maxie's daycare center. Smith's delightful b&w illustrations add appeal. A book that's slight, but fast-paced; farfetched overall, but alive with realistic, kid-pleasing antics. (Fiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1993

In 1840, Libby and her parents live in Michigan, near a Potawatomi settlement. A young Indian girl (Libby's father calls her ``Fawn'' because she resembles a deer) befriends Libby, who sneaks away to visit Fawn's village while her own mother is giving birth. When the Indians are seized by white militia intent on moving them west, Libby is captured with them. Fawn's father leads his family and Libby in an escape that's notably without drama, returning Libby to her parents; Fawn's family heads north. Whelan's narrative is simple and readable, including a few basic insights into Indian and pioneer life (e.g., the Native Americans occasionally eat dogs). But her plot is languid, while the girls aren't drawn vividly enough to give their friendship much intensity. Gentle b&w illustrations. (Fiction. 7-9) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1993

A less convoluted version of the Passamaquoddy tale retold in Shetterly's Muwin and the Magic Hare (p. 379). Here, a wildcat, who's inordinately proud of his long tail, aspires to eat the chief of all rabbits. Three times Great Rabbit tricks him by appearing as a person who feeds him what seems to be meat, but is revealed in the morning as ``squishy squash'' or ``burned beans''; when the angry wildcat rants and threatens, Great Rabbit—now in the guise of a warrior—docks his tail. Gregg's eventful retelling has a lot more dramatic tension that Shetterly's, which is interrupted by other stories; Smith's boldly expressive art serves the story well, though her brash brush-strokes and subtle palette of earth colors and muted blues and greens have less popular appeal than Shetterly's more conventional art. Fine for telling or independent reading. (Folklore/Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
THE CUCKOO CHILD by Dick King-Smith
Released: March 1, 1993

King-Smith's latest is no surprise—yet another tale of an animal on a British farm, informed by keen insight into animal behavior and leavened with just enough fantasy to allow the animals to converse—but it is, predictably, delightful. On a class trip, Jack snitches an ostrich egg (which would otherwise have been fed to a boa constrictor); tucking it under the family goose (he has to find her eggs a stepfamily, since the incubation periods are different), he succeeds in hatching Oliver, whose dim, self-important "father" continues to believe he's a goose despite all the evidence, but whose "mother" is more astute. Seamlessly bringing in an ostrich's normal maturation (Jack, a bird enthusiast, is well versed), King-Smith fashions an eventful plot: Oliver's near-disastrous first swim; his displacement by the next year's goslings and reinstatement after a heroic encounter with a fox; the threat of his being returned to the zoo and its eventual happy outcome, with his own flock of females. Meanwhile, the author characterizes everyone, animal or human, with his usual good-humored wit. A likable story and fine readaloud. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 7-11)Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1992

Peters debuts with a ``Springboard Book'' about a contest that surely could never be—but that will certainly elicit gleeful giggles. The ``Feetfirst'' company is sponsoring the unlikely event (as described in the title) for ten-year-olds, with the magnificent prize of ten pairs of ``Jaguar Jetstreams'' over the next ten years. Earl, one of six children, knows that winning would help his family; besides, he'd love—just once—to come out ahead of friend Damian, whose dad out west keeps him well supplied with things like new bikes but whose methods of winning don't always seem fair. Sure enough, Damian buys a pair of ancient sneakers for the contest, then ``cheats'' by seasoning them with rank cheese; but when he and Earl tie at the finish, he cancels out what he admits was unfair play: he throws the contest by using a ``Smell Repel'' insert. It's all rather obviously contrived, but kids will love it; and, while Earl's motto— ``Cheaters never prosper''—is not really borne out by the events, the debate about it is intrinsic to the story. Smith's freely squiggled, cartoony b&w illustrations (in which most of the characters are African-Americans) extend the lively characterizations and the humor. (Fiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Busy caring for the sheep, Chester is happy on the farm; but then his family moves to a city apartment. The frustrated Chester starts rounding up people: he forces four garbage collectors into a restaurant, five firemen into a fountain, and so on; herding a girls' softball team into the boys' bathroom is the last straw. Chester, predictably, redeems himself: dolefully setting out for his old home, he happens on a lost class of children (in sheep costumes, yet) and shepherds them back to school, winning himself a new job as crossing guard. Contrived but briskly told, and the human analog may provide some insights in these hard times. Smith's lively, comical illustrations effectively convey the characters' feelings, especially the appealing dog's. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Tapping his sources for The Cookcamp (1991) once again, Paulsen tells another evocative story about a small boy alone with his mother during WW II. It could be the same boy, perhaps a year later, who describes their long train journey to northern Minnesota to visit an aunt and uncle who live behind their country store. The boy is troubled by doubts: Before they left Chicago, he glimpsed a mean old neighbor, Mr. Henderson, dressed in a Santa suit. Is it still worth trying to be good if Mr. Henderson is Santa, or if Santa doesn't exist at all? Also, the boy's slightly older cousin Matthew—bedridden and known to be dying—is a subduing source of puzzlement: The boy's father might die in Europe, meaning that he would never come home—but Matthew is already home. What, then, can dying mean? Skillfully and unsentimentally, Paulsen depicts the adults' grief as they prepare for Matthew's last Christmas through the perceptions of a narrator who is so young that he can't really comprehend, but is already a thoughtful and caring individual. The boys' friendly interaction—Matthew contrives games they can share and they worry together about Santa's existence—ring especially true. In the end, a Santa in whom the boys can believe does turn up; it's up to the reader to judge whether he's Uncle Ben's doing, or Paulsen's. A holiday heartwarmer that will appeal to a wide audience. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
MAX MALONE, SUPERSTAR by Charlotte Herman
Released: April 1, 1992

When Max sees the sign announcing auditions for a peanut- butter commercial, he's sure he's a shoo-in. Older sister Rosalie, who takes acting lessons, makes him practice ``spreading, biting, chewing, swallowing, talking, and smiling'' until Max knows he hates ``Peppy Peanut Butter.'' The auditions aren't so great either; nervously, Max decides that his friend Austin Healy has won the part and tells Austin he'll be his manager. Friend Gordy helps out with photos of Austin, but then it turns out that he wasn't chosen. Undaunted, Max learns of an audition for toothpaste, assembles a ``Rezumay'' for Austin, and makes him practice. This time, Rosalie wins, and Max offers to be his sister's agent, too. Touching on children's innocent optimism and their common desire for a little fame, a funny, engaging story for newly independent readers. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 7-10) Read full book review >
PETER'S TRUCKS by Sallie Wolf
Released: March 1, 1992

An ingenious format for rehearsing a favorite topic: in pleasantly cadenced, repetitive verse, newcomer Wolf describes Peter's survey of the trucks he sees in his city neighborhood and on a visit to the country. Questioning their drivers, he learns (Epaminandos-style) that, despite the picture on its door, the milkman's truck contains no cows, just milk; the gasoline truck holds not milk, but gas, and so on until, coming satisfyingly full circle, he finds a farmer's truck full of cows. Using sturdy broken lines and bright added color, Bowman depicts the trucks in bold but loving detail while providing a multiracial cast of men and women to drive them. Just right for the ``Vroom vrooom'' set. (Picture book. 2-6) Read full book review >
THE CLOSET GORILLA by Frances Ward Weller
Released: Sept. 30, 1991

Ben's family has an excellent tradition: ``half the fun of Halloween is using your imagination with whatever's in the closet.'' A Tarzan costume is easy: his leopard-spotted bathing suit and an old sheepskin rug. But where to get an ape? The baby's ``white plush monkey with a pink nose and strained carrots on one ear'' seems inadequate. Ben hopes Great-uncle Hugo, an actor, can help—and so he does, materializing at the last moment in full gorilla gear and even scaring off the neighborhood bullies. Not every boy has such a colorful uncle, and this one's appearance rather undermines the theme of creative making do; but Weller narrates with such wit and good sense that readers won't mind. Smith's deftly scribbled line and muted Halloween colors provide the perfect low-key accompaniment to a satisfying story. (Picture book. 5-8)*justify no* Read full book review >
THE NIGHT THE BELLS RANG by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
Released: Sept. 1, 1991

Long plagued by Aden, a relentless bully, Mason is so taken aback when the older boy suddenly retrieves a drawing that Mason has made for his father (it has blown onto dangerously thin ice) that he doesn't even thank him. Mason's father is a wise, kind man who has explained to Mason that Aden's character is a response to his own abusive father; Aden's single generous act is motivated by his observation that Mason's father is ``real gentle with [horses]. Didn't beat `em or anything.'' Before Mason can follow up his new insights, Aden goes off to WWI. News of his death and of the Armistice arrive together, leaving Mason to make peace with himself by taking a more charitable attitude toward Ira, his little brother. It's unusual for an author to follow an ordinary beginning with such a strong conclusion. The circumstances here—the bullied boy passing on the contempt he endures, the conscientiously described period details of farm life in Vermont, are clearly presented but predictable. Still, they serve their purpose well, setting the scene for the dramatic incident on the ice, Mason's subsequent confusion and grief, a touching encounter with Aden's mother, and his eventual reconciliation with little Ira. A fine early chapter book by the author of The Canada Geese Quilt (1989). Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 7-11)*justify no* Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1991

In a sequel to No Bean Sprouts, Please! (1989), James and his friends do battle with Mean Mitchell, the school bully. After being punched in the mouth, James vows revenge and concocts an elaborate plan to frighten his nemesis in the local haunted house. On Halloween, he and his friends plan to play a series of tricks—only to be terrified by extra, unexpected ghostly events. It's plucky T.J. who confronts Mean Mitchell, who has discovered their intentions and tried to outsmart them; in coming to her rescue, James finds a way to get back at the bully after all. Characterization is rudimentary, but the story moves briskly, carried by snappy dialogue and its appealing, if pedestrian, events. Smith's pleasantly slapdash drawings fit right in. Fans who enjoyed James's previous adventures will not be disappointed. (Fiction. 8-10) Read full book review >
SHADOWS by Dennis Haseley
Released: May 10, 1991

Young Jamie is staying with his father's sister while his widowed mother looks for a job in New England. He's an obliging, rather timid boy, unfamiliar with his aunt and uncle and their West Virginia community, uncomplaining about Aunt Elena's stern, inexplicable insistence on keeping an eye on him. Soon after he arrives, he meets an old man who explains that he's Jamie's Grandpa. Grandpa quickly establishes a bond with the lonely boy by making shadows with his hands—a bobcat and (Jamie's special favorite) Tobias, a dog—telling him stories about his animated figures and teaching Jamie to make them. Left alone on one occasion, Jamie finds Grandpa and spends a happy, innocent day with him. Aunt Elena, distraught, concludes that Grandpa is a bad influence and that the two should be kept apart. This understated story holds attention with its air of quiet mystery. Jamie's dad Bill, it's suggested, may not have been what Jamie has imagined: Was he a hero in the fire in which he died, or did he start it? Perhaps easygoing Grandpa had encouraged his son's wildness—hence Elena's concern. Meanwhile, the shadows make an appropriately elusive image: in some ways, Jamie is like his dad—he even, in a dramatic concluding incident, saves Grandpa from a fire; but he is more like the shadow of what Bill might have been. Like Paulsen's The Cookcamp (p. 50/C-10), a sensitive, evocative story of a solitary child among adults who are new to him. (Fiction. 8-11) Read full book review >